Mountain tourism, if managed sustainably, can boost local communities’ incomes and help preserve their natural resources and culture. However, a lack of data and knowledge on the subject is preventing them from fully seizing such opportunities.
A report published today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Mountain Partnership (MP) seeks to address such gaps in order to reach a better understanding of the subject. The publication also identifies trends and provides a set of recommendations to advance the measurement of mountain tourism, including progress on official tourism statistics and the use of big data and new technologies.
Mountains are home to around 1.1 billion people, some of them among the poorest and most isolated in the world.
At the same time, mountains have long drawn walking, climbing and winter sports fanatics. They also attract visitors for their spectacular scenery, rich biodiversity and vibrant local cultures.
Yet in 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available, the 10 most mountainous countries (in terms of average height above sea level) received only 8 percent of international tourist arrivals worldwide, says the report, entitled Understanding and quantifying mountain tourism.
“Measuring the volume of visitors to mountains is the first vital step we need to take. With the right data, we can better control the dispersal of visitor flows, support adequate planning, improve knowledge on visitor patterns, build sustainable products in line with consumer needs, and create suitable policies that will foster sustainable development and make sure tourism activities benefit local communities,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili wrote in the report’s foreword.
Tourism has proved to be a lifeline for many communities in mountain regions and can play a leading role in protecting livelihoods adapted to these fragile ecosystems, which face continuous threats from climate change and overexploitation. As the sector recovers from the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to rethink mountain tourism and its impact on natural resources and livelihoods, but also to manage it better and to harness its contribution towards a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable future.
Effective planning and management of mountain tourism requires a better understanding of its size and economic, social and environmental impacts. To date, the data available is very limited.
Data and recommendations
The study seeks to address this by developing a new methodology and providing as clear a picture as possible, based on available data and tailor-made surveys, of trends in mountain tourism globally and at regional level for Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.
Not all countries were included in the study, which is a follow-up to the 2021 joint UNWTO/FAO publication Mountain Tourism – Towards a More Sustainable Path. Instead, countries that were considered relevant for estimating the global and regional volumes of mountain tourists were selected based on their characterization as mountainous countries according to their highest peaks and their most relevant mountain ranges. In all, 46 countries were surveyed.
Based on the study’s methodology, in 2019 (latest available data) international mountain tourism was estimated to represent between 9 percent and 16 percent of international tourist arrivals worldwide, or between 195 and 375 million tourists. The scarcity of data related to domestic tourism did not make it possible to estimate the contribution of this important segment.
The report also provides examples of innovative approaches to measuring mountain tourism and planning and managing its impacts.
It recommends a collective effort, involving public and private stakeholders across the value chain, to improve data collection, standardization and delivery to gain a more comprehensive assessment of mountain tourism in terms of volumes and impacts, so that it can be better understood and developed to align with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report also calls for concerted work to help raise awareness of the socio-economic importance of tourism in mountains and targeted policies to create jobs, support small and medium sized businesses and attract green investments in infrastructure and digitalization of tourism services.
Its publication coincided with a ceremony at FAO’s headquarters in Rome marking the end of the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development 2022. Speakers included United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili and government representatives from Andorra, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Switzerland.